Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War by

A REVIEW OF
Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War
By Charles D. Ross
University Press of Mississippi 
Paperback $30

Money, spies, blockade runners ruled often-unexplored ‘Great Carnival’ of Nassau in US Civil War

By University of Mississippi Staff 
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK

On April 16, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a blockade of the Confederate coastline. The largely agrarian South did not have the industrial base to succeed in a protracted conflict. What it did have—and what England and other foreign countries wanted—was cotton and tobacco. Industrious men soon began to connect the dots between Confederate and British needs. As the blockade grew, the blockade runners became quite ingenious in finding ways around the barriers.

Charles D. Ross, author of “Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War” is professor of physics at Longwood University. His previous books include Trial by Fire: Science, Technology, and the Civil War and Civil War Acoustic Shadows and coauthor of Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia.

In the opening of his book, Ross states, “The early attempts at Confederate privateering were largely ineffective and became more difficult as the strengthening blockade closed off ports where captured ships and cargoes could be delivered. While privateers were later replaced by more powerful government commerce raiders like CSS Alabamaand CSS Florida, one of the earliest privateers has a connection to events in Nassau.”

But the ineffectiveness soon changed. Boats worked their way back and forth from the Confederacy to Nassau and England, and everyone from scoundrels to naval officers wanted a piece of the action. 

Ross states, “As summer arrived, Northern visitors to the Royal Victoria had sailed back to New York and Thompson of the Bahama Herald expressed hope that they had enjoyed their stays and would be back when the next season began in November. But unlike previous summers when the town became somewhat deserted as tourists went home, in the summer of 1862 the annual migration north was hardly newsworthy. People from both sides of the Atlantic were beginning to flock to this once quiet island for a purpose far different from health and relaxation.”

Poor men became rich in a single transaction, and dances and drinking—from the posh Royal Victoria Hotel to the boarding houses lining the harbor—were the order of the day. British, United States, and Confederate sailors intermingled in the streets, eyeing each other warily as boats snuck in and out of Nassau. 

But it was all to come crashing down as the blockade at last tightened and the final Confederate ports were captured. 

“The three men who most epitomized the success of the opportunism surrounding the Great Carnival were Henry Adderley, his son Augustus, and their business partner and Henry’s son-in-law George David Harris,” says Ross. “They all moved their riches and their families to England, where they could finally live in the high society they had emulated in Nassau. They lived in mansions in the Paddington area of London, where George Harris had grown up and not far from former Nassau neighbors like Robert Weech, who also fled to England with his riches. The two younger men became involved in London politics, and both were eventually knighted for their service.”

The story of this great carnival has been mentioned in a variety of sources but never examined in detail. “Breaking the Blockade: The Bahamas during the Civil War” focuses on the political dynamics and tensions that existed between the United States Consular Service, the governor of the Bahamas, and the representatives of the southern and English firms making a large profit off the blockade. Filled with intrigue, drama, and colorful characters, this is an important Civil War story that has not yet been told.

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